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Poor Oversight Catches Up with High-Security Infectious Agent and Disease Labs

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The Centers for Disease Control plans to take measures to better protect lab workers and the rest of us from dangerous biological samples.

Twenty-one dead lab chickens piled up this spring at a government facility before its researchers could pinpoint why. The team had requested and received what was meant to be a relatively harmless strain of avian flu. Instead, the virus killed all the test birds during experiments. The samples, it turns out, were contaminated with the deadly H5N1 flu strain. The mishap raised concerns about safety procedures at the lab that provided the virus. The lab in question belonged to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The facility that received the virus was operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even more concerning: the dead chickens event is just one in a string of worrisome recent incidents at government labs that work with potentially deadly microbes. Just yesterday federal officials revealed that 327 vials holding an array of decades-old pathogens were discovered in the same unsecured storage room where six vials of smallpox were discovered earlier this month on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

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